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The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank First Edition Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1400061242
ISBN-10: 1400061245
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Robert Graham, the oddball inventor and millionaire at the heart of David Plotz's book, The Genius Factory, is the archetype for the cliché, "more money than brains." It was Graham who reckoned America was going to hell in a hand basket and the best way to halt the trend was to impregnate women with sperm donated by Nobel Prize winners and other overachievers (providing they were smart and white). Forget for the moment the not-so-thinly-veiled racism powering the whole eugenics movement that served as the backbone of Graham's Repository for Germinal Choice. Graham's super-sperm idea also conveniently overlooked the fact that the women carrying the babies would also leave a genetic imprint while ignoring the nurture-versus-nature argument. Though Plotz addresses these concepts in his book, the real reason to recommend it is its characters, the sperm bank progeny Plotz unearths through intense and covert legwork. The book's humor is also a selling point: "In abstract, donating sperm seemed fundamentally silly. But actually doing it was seductive," Plotz writes. "I had been accepted by the ultraexclusive Fairfax Cryobak! My sperm was 'well above average'! My count was 105 million! What's yours, George Clooney?" Elsewhere, Plotz writes, "By late 1980, Graham found himself presiding over a Nobel Prize sperm bank that had no Nobel Prize donors, no Nobel sperm left in storage and no Nobel babies. None of the first three women who'd been inseminated with Nobel sperm had gotten pregnant. In fact, no one inseminated with the Nobel sperm ever got pregnant. The Nobel Prize sperm bank would never produce a single Nobel baby." No matter. Graham's experiment, which did produce dozens of non-Nobel babies, was a success in one regard: it made for a heck of a story. And in Plotz's capable hands, it also makes for a heck of a book. --Kim Hughes

From Publishers Weekly

Building on a series of articles he wrote for Slate, Plotz investigates the legacy of the Repository for Germinal Choice, a California sperm bank that was to have been stocked exclusively by Nobel laureates. Very few donors in the institution's 19-year run really had Nobels, and the one publicly acknowledged laureate was William Shockley, a notorious racist. Plotz has fun poking holes in the eugenic vision of the repository's founder, self-made millionaire Robert Graham, and his ambition to collect "the Godiva of sperm." More captivating, however, is Plotz's recounting of the efforts of the women who visited the repository to discover the identities of their donors. As he gets to know a cluster of families and donors, Plotz reaches insightful conclusions about the unforeseen emotional consequences of artificial insemination. The "reunions" his research helps bring about include the elderly scientist who adopts a grandfatherly role in a young girl's life and a teenager who takes his wife and infant son along to meet his "dad" and finds him sharing a house with Florida drug dealers. The attempt to breed genius babies may have an aura of surreal humor, but the sensitive narration always reminds us of the real lives affected—and created—through this oddball utopian scheme. B&w photos. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. (On sale June 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061242
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,339,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sheryl L. Katz VINE VOICE on June 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Genius Factory manages to be a page-turner that pokes fun at its subject while simultaneously giving it serious treatment. Many books that start out as magazine articles merely feel stretched out when expanded into a book. In the case of the Genius Factory the extra pages, and expanded treatment are well worth it.

The book deals with three interesting and important stories, weaving them together in a first person account as the author learns more about his subject. The first story is the history of the eugenics movement and how the quest for more perfect people (often motivated by simplistic racist notions) led to the idea of a sperm bank that would hold the sperm of geniuses (crudely defined as Nobel prize winning scientists). This story is filled with colorful characters such as Robert Graham - the originator of the sperm bank - the inventor of plastic eyeglass lenses, and William Shockley - one of the Nobel Prize winners who contributed sperm - winner of the Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor (he is the father of Silicon Valley and his company was the progenitor of intel). It is also a story of racism, misguided notions of improving mankind, and a philosophy that leads to Nazism.

The second story is the story of the families. Plotz tracked down several of the children that resulted from the sperm bank, and he got to know the children and their parents. He also tracked down some of the donors, and their stories are in some cases more complex and interesting than I would have imagined. I don't want to give away too much, so I'll just say that the experience of the families and the impact of the experience is fascinating.

The third story is the story of fertility treatments.
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Format: Paperback
My husband is one of the children Mr. Plotz writes about in his book and in his articles on Slate. Unfortunately, Mr. Plotz is much more concerned with creating a sensational story than with fairly or accurately presenting the lives of the people involved in the Repository.

My husband's experience with Mr. Plotz demonstrated to us that Mr. Plotz's sole interest is in dramatizing and sensationalizing, even to the point of distortion, the experiences of those he interviews in order to benefit from their stories himself. Please read all his writings with a critical eye - he was neither "sensitive" to the "emotional consequences" of his journalism in our encounters with him, nor was he respectful of the youth and vulnerability of his subjects in our experience.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book tells the spectacular story of the "Nobel" sperm bank started by an American enthusiast of eugenics. High IQ and good looking individuals were recruited, although their claims to being superior specimens would not always hold up years later when they were met by their surrogate children in person. Indeed with lax security (and journalists like the author) it was possible to bridge the gap and contact one's donor. Results, as you might expect, are varied.

Although some of the derision and disgust toward the donors and their families was justified, I felt it should not have been so marked. While it is easy to lose your professional distance writing about people who are by turns moving and repelling, I thought the author should have contained himself.

It did not seem to me that donating sperm gave him a more understanding and empathic view of those who did. Instead it simply gave him a sense of inflated self-importance because he was told he had superior sperm. While pride is understandable, I felt it should have been omitted, as it detracted from the stories of the donors and their families.

What was moving, however, was the story of the elderly donor and his "granddaughter," and the conclusions several children came to that it was the heart not the brain that ultimately influenced how worthwhile an individual is. As the author points out, advances in gene technology now make it possible to screen for various characteristics of the fetus, and more are in the works. Sometimes it's the "soul" that gets lost in the process.
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Format: Hardcover
From my first glance between the pages, I knew I wouldn't be able to put this book down. It is part history, part science, part editorial, part sociological study; and has an appeal to a wide audience.

The success stories are few but they are well-written and are more detailed than one might expect from a news report. It is very easy to get emotionally involved with the outcomes of the children which resulted from the sperm donors. Plotz has a unique style, providing enough information to satisfy the reader at every chapter, but leaving the reader curious of the outcome. I very much enjoyed Plotz's speculative prose as it made each story a personal journey as well.

Plotz also places the sperm bank, Graham, and others in historical context. He provides short biographies of the scientists involved with the project, a short history of IVF, and events and anecdotes which depict the sociology of the times. He makes some vast reaching claims on the relationship between American eugenics and Nazism and others; and while all are abhorrent, no evidence for direct links was provided. The speculation however, was nonetheless interesting.

There is a chapter in which he discusses the significance of the mother's genetic material in regards to the personality and success of each child, which put the sperm donation in a more complete and proper perspective. He also briefly describes the phenomenon known as imprinting.

My largest criticism of the book is in regards to the occasional word choice. The author clearly states his background, which to some degree puts his comments in perspective. But one wonders if the author is aware of how his subconscious views are closer to the eugenics perspective than he might think.
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